"Yo, Roy! You got a visitor." I looked up to see Chet wave towards a tall man in a suit. Putting down the report that I was trying to finish up, I stood away from the table and walked out to meet the stranger. Except that there was something about him that teased my memory.
"I'm Roy DeSoto." I tried a smile but his face never relaxed from its supercilious stare.
"I'm looking for John Gage. The ... other man said you are his partner?"
The tone told me that he didn't think much of my appearance so I just nodded and waited for him to tell me who he was. The silence grew uncomfortable for him but I had a lot of experience with outlasting my kids so I just stayed silent.
"I'm his cousin, Wendell Gage. He's not at his apartment and he's not here. I wish to talk with him." You'd have thought that every word cost him a million dollars.
"He's staying with friends." I could see why Johnny didn't talk much about his family if this guy was at all the norm. And I finally saw why he'd seemed so familiar. He and Johnny shared the same eyebrows and eyes. "I can give him a message."
"That is not sufficient. I need to speak to him." He spoke so condescendingly that I had a real urge to say 'no' but I didn't want to make it worse for Johnny.
"I'll give him a call and see if he wants to speak with you." Turning on my heel, I walked back to the wall phone and punched in Brackett's number quickly so he couldn't see it. When it rang, I waited until he picked up before announcing myself. "This is Roy, Kelly. I have Johnny's cousin, Wendell here with me. He wants to talk to Johnny."
"Damn. They aren't letting any grass grow under their feet. Johnny is getting dressed. He slept all night and most of the morning. He's calmer now but from he's told me about Wendell, this is not going to be easy on him. Hold on." I heard a door shut on his side of the phone and he covered the receiver before speaking to my partner.
"Roy, I'm sorry you have to be in the middle of this." Johnny's voice sounded old and tired. "Put him on, please."
I handed the receiver to the cousin and watched his sneer. "Well, John, still running away, I see." There was a short pause. "Grandmother expects to see you at Berkley. The funeral will be in three days. I hope you have suitable clothes?" Another short pause. "You will stay at the estate, of course." He frowned. "She won't like that. It will reflect badly on the Family."
I could hear the capitol letters in his voice.
"It's your funeral, John. That won't further your interests with the Company." He sneered at the wall. "You always were weak, Cousin. What a reunion it will be when you return to the bosom of your family. I do so look forward to meeting you again. Enjoy your retreat while you can."
He hung up and looked around at the break room like it was a slum. "Such an interesting experience, seeing how the little people live. Tell my cousin when you see him that I was glad to see my opinion of his ability to succeed was right on the money."
He stalked out like he was stomping bugs beneath his feet. As soon as I was sure that he was gone, I called them again. "Kelly, its Roy. Cousin Wendell is gone. How is Johnny, really?"
"That bastard really shook him. I sent him out to the porch to sit in the swing." Kelly sighed and I could hear the pain. "He can't go to the funeral alone. I won't let him be alone with that bunch of vipers. Not if I can help it."
I was a little taken aback by his vehemence but I agreed with what he was saying. "I think we can muster up at least two of us. Berkley isn't that far away. We could drive up and support him through the funeral. I'll come for sure."
"Good, that will make two of us. Roy, how much has he told you about his family?"
"Not much. His mother died young and he lived with his grandparents. Most of his stories start at college and go from there. He looks sad sometimes when he's over at my place and the kids are playing with us. Cathy likes to crawl into his lap when she's tired and he always holds her as if she was something rare and precious instead of the little pest she can be." I had no illusions about my three-year-old daughter who alternated between demon and angel.
Kelly's sigh told me that he knew why Johnny had that reaction and that made me feel a little funny. Until today, I had considered myself Johnny's best friend but it looked like Kelly had taken over that position. I'd have to think about that before I saw him again.
"He talked to me a little and I have to tell you that I'm already more than a little hostile to the family. We're lucky he's a very strong man with a resiliency that awes me." He sounded angry and I was suddenly glad that he considered me a friend. "He'll probably want to talk to you tonight. Can you come for dinner, Roy?"
"Sure, I'd like that, Kelly. Does Johnny need anything else from his apartment?"
"He left his book on the coffee table. Could you bring it when you come?"
"No problem. I'll be there about six, barring any emergencies."
Kelly said goodbye and I hung up the phone slowly. There was something different in his voice and I thought about what it might be. He sounded rather like Joanna did when one of the kids was being taunted on the playground - protective. After seeing Johnny's cousin, I could well believe that he might need that.
Dinner was good. It was odd watching the two of them moving around the kitchen as if they'd done this a hundred times before. Kind of like Joanna and I do on a Sunday when we have guests. It was nice, like a family dinner without the kids. And that's when my mind made a connection that should have been made a lot earlier.
Johnny's eyes went to Kelly over and over, as if he couldn't believe he was here.
Kelly's gaze was worried when he looked at Johnny. And he looked at him a lot.
I may be slow but I get there eventually. I'd always known that Johnny's reputation with the ladies was highly exaggerated. He was a loner with a capital 'L' except for a few of us at the station. He was a reader and he trusted me with that knowledge but he didn't talk much about what he was reading.
But he and Kelly were arguing some point in the book I'd picked up and brought over. It was way over my head but my partner was holding his own with the educated doctor. And that intellectual prowess was something he had hidden from all of us. I had to wonder why he felt he had to hide so much of who he was. And it hurt that I'd never known this side of him.
I wondered if they had done anything about the strong attraction I could see between them. Watching Johnny chuckle and drop his eyes, I doubted that he'd given in to the feelings. He was such a private man, his heart hidden under the layers of years. It would take a pretty strong personality and someone with a caring heart to take the time to peel away those layers to the wounded heart underneath.
And if I'd chosen someone, Kelly Brackett would have been top of the list.
His caring compassion and never-give-up attitude on his patients was just what Johnny needed. So I couldn't even feel jealous but I could be worried. Johnny has a pretty wide protective streak of his own and if he could he'd protect us even from himself. I'd have to get Kelly to one side and explain a few things to him.
I'd also have to stick like glue until this whole family thing was over. It didn't take an Einstein to see that a great deal of Johnny's pain came from his childhood. And that brought out my own protective instincts. My partner was my best friend and I'd be damned if I'd let some arrogant bunch of idiots hurt my friend.
Thank goodness Joanna would understand. She had a soft spot for Johnny and usually treated him like one of the family. That's what would help us all through the coming ordeal, that sense of belonging together through thick and thin. And if the rest of the family matched Wendell's attitude, there were some real hard times coming.
Watching Kelly bring another smile to my partner's lips, I said a quiet prayer that they'd be able to come through this with their friendship intact. And just maybe they'd realize that they loved each other and do something about it. I was looking forward to hearing Johnny's explanation.
Then again, maybe I'd just tell the pair of them congratulations. Smiling to myself, I promised them silently that if I had to, I'd knock their heads together or lock them in a small room until they could say it out loud.
'I love you' just isn't said as much as it should be.
And maybe I better go home and tell Joanna how much I love her. They walked me out to my car and I gave Johnny a hug that he returned gingerly. He'd have to get used to it if he stayed with Kelly. That man has a healing touch and always has. They were already back to their discussion about coincidences when I backed out of the driveway and headed home.
The next few days promised to be pretty eventful. I just hoped we survived them.
Date: 2 October 2000
In Dreams You Come
I fussed with my tie. Damn thing wouldn't knot right. I could feel myself beginning to panic and knew that I had to get a hold of myself or They would win.
"Let me." The calm voice behind me made me start.
I watched his hands in the mirror, feeling his warmth all along my back. With a few deft movements, he had it knotted perfectly and then those hands settled on my shoulders. "Thank you."
"My pleasure. You know that Roy and I will be right there with you. You don't have to face them alone." His eyes were so warm.
"I know. It's time to see them but part of me is still that little boy who wondered why they didn't like me. The one who tried so hard to please them that he ended up losing himself." My voice couldn't seem to rise above a whisper.
"But you didn't lose yourself, Johnny. You grew up and became the man I'm proud to call a friend. There is nothing they could do or say that would keep me from your side." His eyes were so dark that I could see myself in them.
"I promise." Kelly's voice had deepened until I could feel every syllable in my bones.
"Okay. I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be." Turning slowly, I gave him every chance to step away but he stayed right there. For one breathless moment, I thought he was going to kiss me but instead he brushed a gentle finger over my cheek before stepping back.
"We're both ready. It's time to go pick up Roy and Captain Stanley at the airport." He checked for the keys to the rental car and we were off.
It still didn't seem quite real, none of it. I'd stayed with Kelly until we flew up to Berkley. He'd made reservations at the Hilton and arranged the tickets for Roy and the Captain to fly up the day of the funeral. They'd stay the night in the second suite at the hotel before flying home tomorrow. Kelly and I would be staying on until the reading of Grandfather's will then we'd be able to escape.
And I still wasn't sure exactly why I'd given in and allowed them to come. It would have been better all around if I'd just gone up on my own, taken my lumps and come home. But somehow Kelly had just started making arrangements and taking it for granted that he was coming along. Then the Captain and Roy announced that they were coming too and somewhere along the line, I lost complete control of the situation.
It felt kind of nice. My friends really are the absolute best.
So, here we were the four of us making stilted conversation on the way to the cold stone church where the Gage family worshipped. The parking lot was packed and I felt the old terror rise up from where I'd stuffed it so many years before. The last time I was here was my Father's funeral. I never realized that you could hate a place.
This one ranked right after the Gage estate and the Academy.
Kelly fell in beside me and the other two followed right behind when we walked up the wide stone steps to the large doors that stood open. I didn't recognize either of the ushers who handed us the ivory programs, tastefully edged in black. Grandmother never missed when it came to etiquette.
But inside the vestibule an old friend was there to greet me.
"Johnny, I wasn't sure if you'd come." The tall blond pulled me into a hug.
"Mikey." I hugged him back then introduced him to my friends. He was the one bright spot from my childhood. The Sawyers lived two estates over from us and the few times when I'd been able to escape the ever-vigilant tutor were spent with Mike. We'd reconnected in college and it was his cabin where I retreated when I needed solitude.
Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. His folks were nice and I'd often wished that my father were more like his dad.
"John." The cold voice from behind me matched the suddenly chilly air. "How kind of you to fit us into your busy schedule. You'll be sitting with the family on the left. I'm sure your . . . friends will excuse you."
"Uncle Geoffrey." I couldn't bring myself to say how nice it was to see him because it wasn't. My last memory of him was the cruelly strong grip that kept me from saving my mother's letters.
"I'll take care of your friends, John." Mike shot me a warning look and I nodded slightly, giving them a small smile of reassurance before following my uncle to the front pew.
If I were very careful, I wouldn't have to really look at any of them. Soft murmurs followed us up the aisle and I tried to distract myself from the coming confrontation. Aunt Priscilla, Geoffrey's wife, sniffed at my appearance and I could see her sharp gaze judging my raw silk navy blue suit with surprise. One of the only things I kept from my youth was the ability to appreciate good clothing.
It wasn't much for seventeen years of lessons but valuable in its own way.
Then my grandmother was in front of me and her clear blue gaze looked right through me, pinning me with the skewer of her distaste. "John."
"Grandmother." I bowed my head to her and kept walking to the other end of the pew. I had perfected the ability to keep moving and acting as if everything were all right by the time I was twelve. Now it was my shield against the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Sitting down, I faced the closed casket with almost a sigh of relief. It was easier to face the dead than it was the living. I'd never have to fear the cutting words and stinging disappointments that were my grandfather's stock in trade. They had hurt much worse than grandmother's cane.
Discipline was a two tiered business in my family. I still bore the scars of both kinds of beating. Wendell appeared and sat beside me with a sneer.
"Done with running away, dear cousin?"
"Yes." I kept my eyes on the casket. We sat shoulder to shoulder, not touching while I pondered the fact that we were the same height and he was beginning to put on weight. For some reason, I expected him to be larger the way he had been when we were teens.
A tiny bit of weight fell off at that realization.
The service was full of glowing remarks about Grandfather's accomplishments and devotion to his loving family. I was even mentioned among the survivors. The minister waxed eloquent while a professional choir sung the hymns and there wasn't a single flicker of warmth from beginning to end.
Suddenly I felt a warm wind pass me and when I looked up, I could have sworn that I saw someone standing by the casket. For a moment, I felt what could have only been a memory of my father. My eyes blurred for a moment and I remembered seeing the two of them standing beneath the tree where I had climbed to hide. Grandfather had one hand on his son's shoulder while my father shook his head and kept saying 'no, I can't come home even for you.'
Maybe they were together now.
Then Wendell was nudging me and whispering that I was one of the pallbearers. Hiding my discomfort, I went to the other side across from my cousin. This was one step closer to being over and I would have done almost anything to leave the sterile air of the church. Mike caught my eye and I saw with relief that Kelly and the others were beside him.
The warm smiles from Kelly and Roy kept me from freezing to zero. The casket seemed to weigh a ton and I thought about what a waste it was to make something so ostentatious then abandon it to the soil and worms. My lawyer had strict instructions that I was to be cremated and thrown to the four winds near the cabin in the national park. I wanted to go to work right away helping new plants begin to grow.
That thought lasted me through the ride out to the cemetery in our rental car. Kelly was my anchor while I listened to the final prayer and threw my handful of dirt into the hole. Captain Stanley and Roy radiated protection when Uncle Geoffrey invited us back to the estate with his usual supercilious air. At least Wendell inherited it honestly.
Mike came with us and when I got into the car, I felt as tired as if I'd run a marathon. He gave Kelly directions while I rested my head against the back of the seat. "Johnny, you going to be okay?"
"When I'm home again ... then I'll be okay. For some reason, Uncle Geoffrey told me I had to be here for the reading of Grandfather's will. I can't imagine him leaving me anything so I don't know why I have to stay." I kept my eyes closed because I didn't want to see the familiar drive and pristine gardens where I was never allowed to play.
"He may not have had a choice, Johnny. The estate originally came from his grandfather and was entailed to succeeding generations. There have been some odd rumors about Gage Industries lately." Mike shrugged. "They're a prime candidate for a merger with Global Economy. You may own stock from your father and not realize it."
"Great!" I opened my eyes and sat up, twisting around so I could see my old friend. "That means they're going to want to hang and draw me."
"Yeah, sorry. I thought I'd better warn you." He grinned ruefully. "Marcus Ralston is the family lawyer and he lunches with my dad about once a month. He mentioned that it might be a good idea if you were found sometime soon, since you turn 30 next month. Dad told me last week and I was planning to talk to you before your grandfather died."
"This just keeps getting better and better." I rubbed my forehead tiredly.
"You're not alone in this, Johnny. We'll back you a hundred percent." Captain Stanley's voice was deep and strong.
"If you want us to stick around tomorrow, we will." Roy said decisively.
I felt like crying at their concern. "You guys are the best
friends I could ever have. But this is my fight and you're needed
back home. I'll be back there as soon as I can. No stock options
are worth my life, the one I've created back in LA. If I can't get
rid of them, I'll give Mr. Ralston my proxies."
"You might just have a chance to make a difference, Johnny. At least listen to what Ralston has to say." Mike spoke quietly but I knew what he was really saying. This might just be the fight worth fighting if I could clear away all the memories of the past.
"I'll listen, Mikey. I promise." I turned back around in time to see the front gates come into view. I closed my eyes again. I really wasn't ready for this, for the rush of memories that overwhelmed me. The car stopped and Kelly's hand covered my fist on the seat beside me.
"Let them go, Johnny. They're old memories and this is now. We're here with you and I really want to see the tree you used to climb." His voice was low and he knew just what to say to bring me out of my funk.
I nodded and opened my eyes to look at him. He was my talisman and my shield but I couldn't let him or them know that. They had seventeen years worth of weapons but I had gathered twelve years worth of shields. They would have to be enough because the battle was now.
Getting out of the car, I looked around as if I was a perspective homebuyer. "Well guys, this is it, the family estate. There are three floors, seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, servant quarters over the garage, a formal dining room, a breakfast nook, basements full of seventy years accumulation of junk and an attic treasure trove of unopened trunks and boxes. I always figured if it ever caught fire, it would take two days to burn to the ground. Come on. It's the last time I ever want to see this place."
Roy moved to one side and Mike to the other with Kelly and the Captain guarding my back. It wouldn't last but at least they gave me the courage to walk inside the front door. The funeral buffet was plentiful and in perfect taste. It took me fifteen minutes to realize what was really bothering me about the company.
There were no children. None.
Maybe Wendell and I were going to be the last generation of dysfunctional kids. I certainly didn't plan on getting married and I pitied the poor woman who married into this clan. Wendell was a bully and a cheat. His wife would have to have a shell three inches thick to let him anywhere near her. Maybe this family was finally petering out.
I could only hope. The guys and I ate whatever looked good while circling through the public rooms of tastefully dressed people. Some of them I recognized but most didn't register. I had only been seventeen when I left and I was always the after thought anyway. Before I could show Kelly the tree I used to climb, Uncle Geoffrey cut me out of my protective circle with the skill of a master.
The long walk to the back study where Grandmother held reign was silent. He didn't think I was worth talking to and I had nothing to say. Tapping lightly on the door, he waited for the soft command before opening the door and leading the way in. This room always seemed dark to me but then it was always punishment time when I was here.
"Sit down, John. This won't take long." Her precise accents from behind the Queen Anne desk stiffened my shoulders in an automatic reaction that shook me hard when I realized what I was doing.
"It won't take any time at all. I know there's an entail and Mr. Ralston can take care of the rest." I moved the chair from in front of the desk to a slightly different spot. Just a little trick I learned in psychology class.
"You don't want to know what your Grandfather said about you in the will?" Her voice might even have sounded wistful to someone who didn't know her as well as I did.
"He's dead. We had our chat in the hospital before he died." I watched her eyes narrow. She hadn't known that he was still alive when he reached the hospital. "I owed him the respect of attendance at his funeral. Now that that is done, I'm going home."
"A low rent apartment and the dorm room of a fire station in a low class neighborhood." Someone had done her homework.
"It beats a high class neighborhood where no one is what they seem and lies are just part of the social scene."
"You hate us so much." She stood and shook her head sorrowfully as she made her way to the sideboard and the crystal decanter of whiskey. "I've thought about you so often over the years. Wondered how your visit to the Indian Reservation went. What wonderful memories you must have made with a drunken uncle, a half-witted aunt and a grandfather dying of some obscure disease."
"As I'm sure you know, I stayed with them until my grandfather died of radiation poisoning, compliments of secret nuclear testing on the reservation. Is there a point to this chitchat, Grandmother? You never used to be so maudlin." I'd stood when she did but I had to divide my attention between her and Uncle Geoffrey.
"You should show more respect to your elders, John." He said gravely.
"I show respect to those who earn it. If there isn't anything more, I'll be on my way."
"A drink, John. One last toast to the best husband a woman ever had." Her hand shook while she poured out three glasses. Uncle Geoffrey crossed the room and took two of them while she looked up at the portrait of my grandfather that hung in the place of honor.
He brought one of them to me and I took it automatically while I watched her communing with the dead man. He raised his glass and said, "To Albert Gage."
"To my Albert." She raised her glass and tossed it back
neat. She must have an iron stomach because I could barely tolerate
the bitter liquid that I gulped gingerly. "I will expect to see you
tomorrow at ten. Mr. Ralston will be reading the will here at the
I set the glass down on the corner of the desk. "Goodbye, Grandmother."
She didn't even turn when I walked around Uncle Geoffrey and out the door. The corridor seemed to stretch forever before I finally got back to the living room. Kelly was watching the hall and the look of relief on his face warmed my heart. Crossing to his side, I realized that I'd begun to sweat.
Taking on Grandmother must have upset me more than I'd thought. "Let's get out of here, Kel. Where are the others?"
"We're here, Johnny. Ready to go?" Roy looked eager.
"Let's blow this pop stand, gentlemen." I was out the front door with them right on my heels. We were actually in the car and heading for the highway when the first cramp hit me. I'd had one of the jalepeno pepper balls so I tried to ignore it. But then there was another one and another.
"Jesus, Johnny, you're pale as a ghost." Kelly stopped the car, which was probably a good thing since I was fumbling for the door handle. Two seconds more and I was throwing up everything from last night's dinner all the way up to the whiskey I'd just drunk.
Roy was holding my shoulders and Kelly was holding my head while I spewed out what felt like the lining of my stomach. There was nothing left to throw although my stomach hadn't gotten the message yet. But slowly the dry heaves stopped and Kelly wiped my face clean with an alcohol wipe from his medical bag.
"Take a tiny sip of this, Johnny." He smiled at my weak headshake. "It's just water from my water bottle. Let's see if it stays down."
I rolled it around in my mouth before gingerly swallowing. My stomach did a little dance but accepted it grudgingly. "Okay, I guess maybe today upset me more than I thought."
"Un-uh and maybe you need to cut back on the jalepeno peppers." Roy ruffled my hair and raised his eyebrows the way he does when one of his kids sasses him.
"Yes, Dad. The way it feels right now, I'm never going to touch one of them again as long as I live." Closing my eyes, I leaned into his hug. "Good thing I waited until I left the living room. Grandmother would have never forgiven me if I'd tossed my cookies on the Persian rug."
Kelly shook his head. "I'm just glad you waited to get out of the car. I don't know if my insurance would cover that kind of accident."
Mike and Roy helped me up and back over to the car. I was settled in the front seat again and they both fussed over me while I swallowed against the sudden nausea. Another sip from Kelly's water bottle and everything seemed willing to stay in place. It seemed like time slowed and it took forever to get everybody back in the car. Kelly drove quickly but smoothly back to the hotel.
Roy and Captain Stanley walked me to the elevator while Mike and Kelly had a private talk out by the car. I was looking forward to lying down and staying prone for a couple of hours. Looking back curiously, I saw Mike nod and take a brown paper bag from Kelly before waving goodbye to me. Then my private doctor strode across the lobby, his face caught between a frown and a smile.
It had been a hell of a day. But looking at the friends surrounding me, I felt blessed. Tomorrow I'd listen to a will and head for home. If I was coming down with the flu, I wanted to be in my own bed. Closing my eyes, I leaned against Roy's shoulder and willed my stomach to stay in place.
One hell of a day.
Date: 7 October 2000
In Dreams You Come
I took Kelly's high sign to mean that something was wrong . . . big time wrong. As if I didn't know already. Johnny isn't prone to throwing up with that cast iron stomach of his. And he hadn't eaten anything that the rest of us hadn't so he had to have been given something when he left us to go with his uncle.
Anger is something I don't feel very often. But anyone who hurts a child can get me mad faster than anything and it looked to me as if my friend had been abused for most of his childhood. Right now I had some pretty harsh feelings towards the people I'd just seen.
At the moment, I didn't trust any of his family. Something Johnny had said really pointed up the differences between this funeral and one from my family. There weren't any children anywhere in the house and that was spooky. It was like looking at an old photograph in a scrapbook and knowing that everyone in the shot was dead. This funeral had left ghosts behind but they were still wearing flesh and blood.
Hang the expense! I was going to talk to Joanna tonight. Even if it was only to say 'hi, I love you'. Thank God we came with Johnny. He didn't have enough old friends like Mike Sawyer. These barracudas would have eaten him alive. Or he'd have been alone when this 'flu' hit.
I held him a little closer and matched his own shiver. Watching him struggle to quit throwing up and breathe at the same time had been scary even for an old pro paramedic like me. After giving Mike the samples that he'd taken when Johnny got sick, Kelly rejoined us for the trip up to our rooms. The Captain and I would have to come back down and get our luggage out of the rental car but only after Johnny was safely tucked in bed.
Luckily our suites were side by side with a connecting door between our outer rooms. This was the fanciest hotel I'd been in since my honeymoon. The little shampoo and soap were going right into my suitcase for the kids. I kind of wished I'd been able to bring Joanna with me. She would have loved the pretty colors on the walls and bedspreads. Even the towels were kind of a peach color. I made a mental note to see if they had a brochure with pictures that I could take back to her.
But right now, I was waiting outside Johnny's bathroom to make sure he didn't have another spasm while he showered. He'd headed right there as if he couldn't wait to wash away the day. I'd already turned down the bed and clicked on the bedside table light and now I was just leaning here, listening to the homey sounds and thinking about the day.
From some things Mike had mentioned, I had a much better appreciation of my partner. He really had overcome a lot. I'd always known that his clown mask was just that ... a mask to hide who he really was except for those he trusts. And he doesn't trust very many people but now I knew why. Maybe I'd give my mom a call this weekend just to touch base and see how Dad was doing. I realized that I was lucky to have warm loving parents who supported me.
"It looks nice, Roy. Thanks." Johnny smiled at me and touched my shoulder when he left the bathroom clad only in a towel slung around his hips.
"No thanks necessary. The Captain went down to get our luggage and Kelly is making a call." I watched him cross to the bed and sit as if he still felt the need to hunch over. "You're too pale, Johnny. Go ahead and lie down. Now that you've purged out the bad stuff, you can rest up."
He looked so vulnerable sitting there, his eyes sad and his mouth drooping. "Kelly thinks there's something wrong, doesn't he?"
"Yes, I do." Kelly came in and crossed to the bed so I had a ringside seat for what happened next. "The pharmacy down the block just delivered something that will help with the chills and shakes. Get under the covers and Roy will get you a glass of water."
His hand smoothed back the lock of hair that always falls on Johnny's forehead and I turned into the bathroom at the look in my partner's eyes. He was scared to death but there was a glimmer of hope that made me smile. Taking my time, I let the water run for a while so it was really cold. Maybe I'd make a trip down the hall to the ice machine so we had some in the suite.
When I came out, Johnny was under the covers with Kelly by his side. The doctor was still brushing back the dark hair with a rhythmic stroke that had my partner's eyes at half-mast. So under Kelly's spell was he that he didn't even react when I quietly set the glass down on the table. I expected to hear a purr any moment.
"Thanks, Roy. Swallow these tablets for me, Johnny and then I want you to rest." There was a caressing note in his voice that made me glad I'd already decided that I was okay with what I suspected.
And Johnny swallowed, his eyes never leaving Kelly. I heard a noise in the other room and quietly left them. The Captain had brought up the luggage and I went in to unpack. He asked how Johnny was doing and I gave him an update. He already knew that something wasn't right and we talked for a moment about whether we should stay on or catch a later flight. We decided to wait and see.
After unpacking, I went back into the other suite to find Kelly on the sofa with a drink in his hand. His eyes were far away and I hated to disturb him but I wanted to know what he thought had happened. "Dr. Brackett?"
"It's Kelly, Roy. Please? You already know there's something up. And I have to tell you that I think his uncle or grandmother or both just tried to poison him." His voice was low but no less grim. "Mike said he knew a lab that would do a toxicology spectrum on the samples I scooped up. Stress can cause someone to get a nervous stomach but this was far too strong a reaction. He told me that his grandmother insisted on all three of them drinking a toast to his grandfather's memory."
"What does he think?" I sat down in the chair across from him.
A flash of fury crossed his face but his voice stayed low. "He accepted it like he deserved it because he was always a disappointment to the ... Family. I wish I could go back in time and have a talk with his father. He had a beautiful little boy with a big heart and an intelligent brain that he abandoned to those cold-hearted parents who did their best to brutalize him into a family clone."
"He deserves better." I said gently.
"Yes, he does." He fervently agreed.
"He needs someone who respects and loves him wholeheartedly. Who ever that person is will need patience and a lot of tenderness to convince him that he's worthy of being loved." I took my courage in both hands. "Someone like you."
His eyes went blank then warm in a blink. "I wish. I don't know if he would think so. We're friends and I don't want to screw that up. I haven't felt this way since before my wife died and as far as I know, Johnny never has."
"Three quarters of his 'dates' are visits to the library and the other quarter is with blind dates that he dates a couple times before letting them go." I decided honesty was the best policy. "I think he may be afraid to commit to someone because he really does think he's not worth loving. He'd be safe with you and friendship is the best basis for love that I know. Joanna and I have known each other more than half our lives and even if we weren't married, we'd still be friends."
"That describes Rosa and I." He chuckled ruefully and raked a hand through his hair. "I feel like I'm getting permission from his father to ask for Johnny's hand in marriage."
"Sorry, that's something you're going to have to ask Johnny himself. But from an outsider point of view, I can see strong emotions on both sides. Good, honest liking and maybe love from the pair of you. I just realized that he's been feeling this for some time and I never saw it."
"Really? It's such a turbulent time for him and all these old emotions are getting stirred up. I don't want to take advantage of his emotional state." That note of longing told me what I needed to know. "You're his best friend and I wouldn't want to disturb that friendship."
"Nothing says we can't have more than one best friend. Joanna is mine but he's become a brother to me. And speaking of family, he'll try to protect all of us from his birth family and probably from himself. We're going to have to stick close or he'll try to do it alone." I nudged him verbally.
The shy smile told me without words that he understood what I was getting at. I've come to see over the years that family isn't always blood. But it's always a bond of the heart and that's what I could see growing between Johnny and Kelly. Captain Stanley came in at that point and we decided that Kelly would stay with my partner while we went out to walk in the sunshine and explore the downtown plaza shops.
I wanted to get something for Joanna and the Captain was looking for a watercolor brush that he couldn't find in LA. Which is how I found out that in his spare time he was a painter. By the end of the first half-hour, we were on a first name basis. Hank had a dry sense of humor that made me laugh. We wondered around for about three hours but in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about what we could do to protect Johnny. On the river walk, the Captain voiced some of my own concerns.
"Short of providing him with a 24 hour guard, I can see ten different ways that they could get at him."
"Yeah, I know." I felt comfortable enough with him that I decided to tell him what Kelly had told me about the whiskey.
"Damn, I can't see how someone could do that. Johnny is a kind and caring person who's never hurt a soul. He even stays friends with the women he's pretending to date." Hank said with a sigh.
I almost stopped walking and I know part of my mind was yelling 'whoa, he knows'. "Yeah, he has a soft heart under all those layers of protection."
"Don't worry about me, Roy. My Uncle Henry has been living with his 'friend' Tony for over forty years. Hell, I think of him as 'Uncle Tony'." He chuckled and I felt a weight drop off me at that admission.
"They're going to need our support once they decide what they want to do. We've got to get him out of this predicament first. I hope this lawyer doesn't have more bad news for Johnny." We turned into the lobby in time to catch Mike Sawyer on his way up.
There were others on the elevator so we talked about the Plaza and what we'd found shopping. All the way up I could feel my heart sinking at the grim look on Mike's face. Entering our suite, we kept on going straight through the open door into theirs. Johnny's door was closed but I could hear a faint murmur so I tapped on the door and Kelly opened up.
"Mike's here and I don't think he's got good news." I said apologetically.
Johnny was propped up against the pillow-padded headboard. "Why don't you come in here? I need to know."
When Kelly nodded, I beckoned the others in. Hank and I perched on the foot of the bed while Mike sat on the other side so he could hold Johnny's hand. Kelly went back to where he'd been earlier.
"Here's the toxicology report. Is it what I think it is?" He handed over an envelope to Kelly who opened it and read it out loud.
Johnny's eyes closed and the corners of his mouth drooped while Kelly swore softly under his breath. "Yes, Mike, it is. Pure cocaine. Thank God, he threw it up so quickly. The stimulant didn't have a chance to give him a heart attack although that's probably what they had in mind. Your blood pressure is slowly coming back down so I think we're over the worst of it."
"Who was it, Johnny?" Mike spoke softly but with underlying steel.
His eyes were still closed and he shook his head. "Either ... both ... does it matter?"
I bit my tongue at the hopeless tone and watched Mike and Kelly exchange a long look. Kelly was now holding Johnny's other hand. "It matters if you want them punished."
I already knew what my partner was going to say. The headshake was emphatic and the dark eyes pleaded with us to understand. "If I hate them or prosecute them then they've won."
Hank shook his head with a smile. "Then how about hitting them where they live? Find out about the will and stock options. Or whatever the hell this lawyer says he needs to talk to you about. Then do what you want with them."
"You don't eat or drink anything when you're with them." Kelly squeezed the hand in his. "And you have one of us with you at all times."
Mike chimed in. "I talked to Mr. Ralston right before I came here. If you like, he's willing to come here tonight and fill you in on the estate and some of the facts that pertain to the company."
Johnny's gaze was uncertain but when his eyes met mine, I nodded to him. "You need to know what you're facing and this guy seems to be neutral. Facts are important."
"It's been so long since you knew these people, Johnny. Do you even know what Gage Industries does these days?" Hank asked.
"I read the Wall Street Journal and try to keep up. They've gone into aerospace technology and at the moment, they're trying to get a contract with NASA for the space program." He said with a hesitant air.
"Then you need more facts to see why they're trying to get rid of you." Hank said logically.
Kelly and Johnny exchanged a long look then my partner nodded. "Okay. I'll listen to what he has to say."
Mike grinned triumphantly. "All right! I'll call him and set up a time for him to come here. Eight o'clock, okay?"
"Sure. We'll set up the outer room for a conference then we'll make ourselves scarce." I was dying to know what the lawyer had to say but this was hard enough on my partner. I didn't want him to think we were voyeurs.
"No, I'd like you to stay, if you don't mind?"
"Sure, we'll stay. Maybe we can provide some different points for view for you." Hank said easily and I could feel the tension in Johnny begin to subside.
His shoulders relaxed and his eyes went back to half-mast. Kelly was checking his pulse surreptitiously and I wasn't surprised to hear him declare a nap for Johnny. So we cleared out and began talking about what we were going to do about dinner. Mike made his phone call and the meeting was set for eight. He offered to take us out to dinner and bring back something for the two who were staying in.
We all realized that the meeting would chart our course for the next few days. And I was looking forward to helping Johnny bury the past. For good.
Date: 8 October 2000
In Dreams You Come
It was dark. There were no stars or moon to light the room. But I'd been here before.
Someone was coming.
I made myself small and huddled on the floor in the corner by my bed.
Maybe they wouldn't come inside this time.
If I was very quiet and very good, they might pass on by.
The door quietly began to open
I wanted to cry but I knew that would be bad so I didn't.
The light from the hall was dimmer than usual.
My heartbeat sounded really loud but I didn't know how to make it be silent.
Maybe if I could make it stop then I would leave this cold place.
"John. Where are you? Come here at once."
Her voice is always so cold and her shadow is so big.
"John. Don't make me angrier than I already am. Come here."
I shivered all over but I tried. I really did try to stand up.
Then something loomed over her from behind and with a growl, my bear picked her up and threw her out into the hall.
I could move then and I flung myself into his arms with a cry. His hug was warm as it always is. "Open your heart, little one."
Kelly's voice murmured soothing words and his arms were strong around me when I awoke with a start, my heart trying to race out of my chest. One hand stroked my neck while the other rubbed small circles on my back. My head was buried in the hollow of his neck and shoulder. I'd never felt so safe before. Or loved.
"You're safe now. Leave the dream behind. She can't hurt you ever again. I've got you." He rocked me tenderly and I felt his concern wash through me like a healing draft of pure love. "I've got you and I'm not letting go."
"Promise?" My hands gripped his arms.
"I promise, Johnny. Are you sure you want to take a chance on a workaholic doctor who sometimes works eighteen hour shifts and can't leave off thinking about his patients all too often?" His touch seemed to change from soothing to caressing.
I was scared out of my mind but this was a good kind of scared. A feeling that I'd never felt before bloomed inside of me and sent tendrils out from my heart. "Are ... are you sure you want to take a chance on a battle scarred paramedic with one or two really nasty enemies?"
His fingers urged my head up so he could look me in the eye. "I can't think of anyone I could possibly love more than I love you."
My eyes must have been as big as headlights at his use of the 'l' word. I'd never said it before to anyone and I wasn't sure I could say it back. But something in my gaze must have told him I couldn't speak right now because he smiled, leaned in close and kissed me.
His lips were soft and warm, scattering kisses over my face from forehead to chin. I could feel tears leaking out of my tightly shut eyes but he kissed them away before returning to my lips with a gentle nudge that reminded me that I had permission to kiss him back. Parting my lips, I invited him inside and the comforting kiss turned heated. It was still under control but the feel of his tongue against mine sent little electric pulses straight into my blood stream.
It was better than anything I'd ever felt before and I was trembling when he gently pulled far enough away so he could see my eyes. His gaze was tender and I wondered what he saw when he looked at me.
"I see a strong man ... a loving man ... someone I want to share my life with." He read my mind.
"Are you sure, Kelly? Some of these scars run deep and I don't know if I can love you like you deserve." It hurt but I had to warn him.
"You hid your wounds well, Johnny but now we can bring them out into the sunlight and drain them of all the pain and despair. If you let me, I think that together we can heal those old hurts." He smoothed back the lock of hair that always fell and I gave into the urge to nudge his palm like the cat that Roy accuses me of being.
"I want that, Kelly. More than you can ever know but I don't know if I trust myself not to screw up." I wanted to smile at him but it seemed I wasn't done worrying yet.
"Then trust my judgment for the moment, Johnny. Trust that you can win through this nightmare. I promise to support you no matter what happens." He smiled whimsically and shook his head. "I'm a lousy knight and my armor is a bit dented in places but I promise to guard your back while you fight your dragons."
That sounded better than good. "Yes, please. What do we tell the others?"
He blushed and cleared his throat. "Well, actually ... um, Roy already asked my intentions. I think he knew before we did."
Chuckling, I shook my head and finally managed a real smile. "You're probably right. He's the brother I always wanted. His marriage with Joanna showed me what was possible when you love each other. I didn't think it would ever happen for me."
"You are worthy of love and I plan to keep telling you that until you believe me." He cupped my cheek and leaned in to kiss me again. I swear my toes curled while my blood pressure shot way up. This wasn't a gentle kiss but a promise kiss, a promise for later.
I leaned into him and gave my precious control into his hands. And I regretted nothing.
Kelly ordered dinner in and told me the guys had gone out for Chinese. I had soup and crackers while watching him eat a steak with mixed vegetables and a baked potato. The best part was when he fed me some of the cauliflower from his fork. That seemed like such an erotic thing to do that it made me blush and drop my eyes.
He chuckled and leaned in to kiss me. It was a weird mixture of steak and chicken plus a little butter from the potatoes but mostly it was just us. I never knew a kiss could be as comforting as chicken noodle soup but this one was. A noise from the outer room pulled us apart and I could see my disappointed look mirrored on his face.
"Later, Johnny." He whispered to me before going to the door to let them in.
They had a dozen funny stories to tell me about the little Chinese restaurant and its customers. I finished my soup and ate one of the steamed pot stickers that Roy had brought back for me. I love them, as he well knows so he was expecting my moan of appreciation but by the look on Kelly's face he hadn't been.
I could see a promise of later in his heated gaze and had to drop my eyes before I had to blush again. Roy touched my hand and shot a sideways look towards Kelly then back again in an obvious question. And I couldn't help it - I flushed what felt like bright red. Roy's delighted grin told me that at least he was on our side and that made me feel a whole lot better, more settled into this strange new world that I'd slipped into.
It was seven thirty and Kelly shooed everyone out so I could get dressed for the eight o'clock meeting. Closing the door behind them, he turned and watched me throw back the covers. I'd forgotten that all I was wearing was a sheet and I hesitated. But he crossed to my side immediately and knelt by the bed, his hands covering mine.
"Shall I tell you how very hard it was that night to undress you and close the shower door with you on the other side? Or how much I wanted to soap your entire body from head to toe? Or dry you very slowly before crawling into bed with you?" His soft words painted brilliant pictures in my mind.
"I would have liked that, Kelly." I ran a single finger down his cheek and across those soft lips. His tongue came out and flicked it as it went by. My stomach did a flip-flop but it was a buoyant feeling rather than a sinking one. "Are you going to help me dress?"
He sighed and pouted. "I'd rather undress you but I'm not letting any of them see your beautiful body so I guess I'll have to let you put on some protective layers."
I laughed out loud and he rose, pulling me out of bed and onto my feet. Our fourth kiss was a little more heated but eventually he let me go so I could dress. I'd never had a helper before but he made putting on my clothes almost as much of a turn-on as taking them off. Every little button had to be just buttoned just right and he made it a game that had me laughing twice more.
Part of me hadn't thought I'd ever laugh again. The realization that my family wanted me dead and was prepared to help the process had been like the final nail in the coffin. The only reason I hadn't was standing in front of me, concentrating on my cuff button. He was my shield and my support.
"Thank you, Kelly." I leaned in and kissed him for the first time. Sure it was our fifth kiss but I moved first this time and he seemed to like it. His arms were strong and we generated enough heat between us to warm the entire room, maybe the whole suite.
The knock on the door broke the kiss and he rested his forehead against mine for a moment before hugging me hard and calling out. "Coming."
"Not yet, but we will be." I whispered and watched him grin.
So, that's the picture I took with me to light my way into the outer room and this unknown lawyer who seemed to have part of my future in his hands. I was as fortified as I could get and the tall old man with the smiling face who greeted me didn't seem quite as scary as I'd feared he'd be.
"Mr. Gage, it's a pleasure to finally meet you. Mike swore you existed but I hadn't seen any proof of that for some time." His handshake was firm and the calluses on his hand told me that he did something more physical than write law briefs.
"I'm sorry about that. It never occurred to me that I meant anything to the Gage estate."
He nodded and shook hands with Kelly before sitting down and opening his briefcase. "You were so young when you left that you never had a chance to look at the family documents. Your Great-great grandfather, Thaddeus Gage was the founder of the Gage Company now known as Gage Industries. His improvements to the combustion engine established the company as the foremost engineering firm in the country. He was disappointed in his sons, William and Thomas but their children appeared to be more suited to industry so he left his estate and more importantly, the Company entailed to succeeding generations."
"What does that mean?" I asked, wondering why I didn't know any of this.
"This specific entail means that the company can not be sold without 100% approval from all heirs. And the heirs are any male issue descending in a direct line from Thaddeus. William's son was your grandfather Albert while John was Thomas' only child. Unfortunately John died young without children, leaving Albert as the soul beneficiary. Geoffrey as his oldest son and your father, Edward came next and upon Albert's death, the estate passes now to Geoffrey, his son Wendell and you as your father's only heir."
I was pretty sure that my face had a really stupid expression on it. A third of the estate belonged to me? "No way. That just can't be. Why not Geoffrey since he's the last one of his generation?"
He smiled genially. "That's why we have lawyers, John. To explain the oddities of the law. Thaddeus left the estate in equal shares to each male heir and that has continued down the years. My predecessor must have enjoyed writing these documents because there are literally no loopholes in it. Albert had already graduated from Harvard and John from Yale. Thaddeus specified that no matter the generational difference, each male heir was equal. If they'd had eight boys a piece, there would have been that many shares."
"It sounds like a recipe for disaster." Kelly said grimly and I realized what he was thinking. "So the company and estate moneys couldn't be left by Albert at his death, they'd already passed to Johnny, Geoffrey and Wendell?"
"Essentially correct. All heirs must reach their 30th birthday
before inheriting and I understand that John will be 30 next month. Wendell has already had his birthday so the shares stand at 33 and 1/3
percent to each or will when John turns 30."
Shit! The attempt to kill me suddenly made perfect sense. I'd always known that Uncle Geoffrey was ambitious and he was the apple of Grandmother's eye so either or both of them had a really strong motive for killing me before I turned 30. Except ...
"Wait a second, if I die before or after I turn 30, it wouldn't make any difference so long as I didn't have a son to follow me. The shares would go back to the estate in either case."
Mr. Ralston looked a little bewildered at my statement but I could see light dawning on the others faces.
"So there must be a reason why they want you gone now." Kelly said grimly. "Mike, you mentioned a buyout or merger?"
"Rumor in the business community has it that a merger is planned between Global Economy and Gage. Further rumor has it that the head of Gage will become the President of Global Gage Industries. Which means Geoffrey."
White-hot anger flooded me. I could taste it like a metallic tang in the back of my throat. "And Global is the company that raped 10,000 acres of Brazilian rain forest and never blinked an eye. They knew that I wouldn't vote for anything to do with them. I see why you said you thought I could make a difference."
"Excuse me," Mr. Ralston divided his look between us. "Is there something I should know?"
I looked at Kelly and he gestured with open hands. It was up to me and I was of two minds about letting this cat out of the bag. We really had no proof except for the toxicology report but I couldn't just let it go either. So, I nodded to him and he told Mr. Ralston about the drink laced with cocaine. The older man listened intently and asked a few questions before sitting back with a sigh.
"I can't say I am completely surprised. I don't like breaking open old scabs but your father Edward investigated his wife's accident most diligently. I had just come into my father's law firm and as the youngest member was given the duty of working with him. He had the car pulled apart and put back together piece by piece. But there was never enough proof as to why the breaks failed while your mother was driving. It's a miracle you survived the crash, John. You did so because she fought with every ounce of her strength to keep the car on the road as long as she could. To the day he died, Edward believed that someone had filed through the break line with the intention of killing both you and the unborn child she was carrying."
All I could think was -- I could have had a brother or sister. Part of me had gone numb while another part just nodded sadly and accepted every word. Oh, mama, did you know how much they hated you?
"Does he have to be there when Albert's will is read?" Kelly's voice brought me partially out of the well of my despair.
"I'm afraid so. The formal reading must take place in front of all the heirs. And there is something there for John over and above the company estate." He watched me with kind eyes and I nodded, still unable to speak. "In fact, I brought part of it with me. He gave me this sealed letter about five years ago. He told me that you'd just joined the LA County Fire Department and he was proud of your achievement. But because of your estrangement, he couldn't tell you himself. 'This shall speak for me,' he said and handed me this envelope. 'Give it to him when I'm dead and buried.'"
The long ivory colored envelope had my name on it in Grandfather's distinctive handwriting. Funny, I never thought I'd see that writing again. I took it with a tremor that even the Captain could see. I needed a hug so badly at that moment but I had to be content with Kelly's hand on my arm.
"Are there any objections to Johnny having someone with him?" He asked Mr. Ralston.
"I think that would be most appropriate. I know this has been a shock, John but may I say I am very pleased to finally meet you. When you have questions, please feel free to come to me for whatever answers I may have." He stood and the rest of us rose as well.
I shook his hand, still mute and he understood. The good-byes were subdued while everyone tried to think of something to say. But what can you say to someone who's just been told that the attempt today wasn't the first? That your own family was willing to exterminate you for money and power? It was one hell of a conversation stopper.
Finally, Mike came over and hugged me. "Whatever you decide is fine with me. You know that I'll back you completely. And the cabin is yours when you need it to recuperate."
Hugging him back, I felt a little warmth creep back inside me. "Thanks, Mikey. You're a good friend. Is it okay if I bring someone with me?"
He laughed and tweaked my nose. "You bet. I wonder who that might be?"
I tried not to blush when his glance slid to Kelly but my doctor just grinned back at him and I gave up the ghost. It seemed everybody was determined to accept me the way I was. Roy was next and his hug told me that he was upset with the old news but glad about the new.
My friends are the best in the world. Even the Captain clapped me on the shoulder and told me with a grin that time off could be negotiated. Kelly was content with a warm look and a suggestion that it had been a long hard day so maybe we should call it a night. Roy asked the Captain if he wanted to watch the hockey game on cable and the two of them shut the door between the two suites when they left with a 'good night'.
Mike gave me one more hug when he left and a quiet whisper to take the 'good-looking hunk' to bed with me. I blushed deep red while mock-punching his jaw. He'd been there while I was experimenting in college so he'd read me pretty well. But I was blessed by them and while I leaned my back against the door, I watched Kelly turning off lights in the outer room then turn to me.
With outstretched hand he stood in the doorway to my bedroom. "Read your letter tomorrow. Come to bed and let me love you the way you deserve to be loved."
Heaven was there in his inviting posture, his husky voice and those wine-dark eyes. "Are you sure?"
"I love you and maybe I could show you how much?" The slow smile ignited a little flame inside of me, chasing away the bone-deep chill that had taken up residence at the lawyer's memories.
So I crossed the room to his arms and let him hold me up. "I love you, Kelly. Make the pain go away."
"That's what I do best, Johnny. I can see that you are going to be my favorite patient." He hugged me close and walked me into the room, shutting the door behind us. "I plan of giving the words 'open wide and say ah' a whole new meaning."
I started to laugh and when he tumbled me into bed, I realized for the first time that I was free from the unspoken fears that had plagued me since I was a child. I knew the enemy now and the brave knight tickling me into laughter would be there to guard my back against all comers.
Dragons, here I come.
End parts 5-8